The reason I really didn’t like it was that it seemed like bait and switch propaganda trying to use shock value to actually lull people into some sense of security and distract from the real roots of the problems. It’s message seems to go something like, “See folks, we have heroes saving us from the bad guys. Don’t worry about a thing, just don’t buy drugs (cause drugs are bad and it gives money to the bad guys) and the police will take care of the rest and all our problems will be solved.” If only it were that easy.
I have some friends who are very well-educated, dedicated Spiritists, meditation and yoga practicing pacifists – who loved the movie. I gave up trying to talk people out of it after running into a wall with them.
But just because violence and drugs has been the overriding theme in the Brazilian movies that have gotten the most notice recently, that doesn’t mean that other movies aren’t being made. They just aren’t getting much attention or distribution - so not many people know about them.
Casa de Areia is a good example of this. Directed by Andrucha Waddington and staring the country's two most famous actresses, Fernanda Torres and Fernanda Montenegro, it got little attention here in its home country. We were living here in 2005 when it came out and the first time it crossed my radar screen was when I read a pretty glowing review in the New York Times a year later. It's a lovely film.
Another perfect example is Linha de Passe. Directed by the biggest name director in Brazilian cinema, Walter Salles, it won a bunch of awards in film festival circuits, including Best Actress at Cannes. It was released here in Brazil last September and I don’t ever remember seeing it shown or advertised at the movie theaters. It’s coming out on DVD now so we’ll finally get to see it.
So the problem isn’t that Brazilian film directors aren’t making nuanced, sophisticated films. They are. The problem is that they aren’t getting distributed. In 2007, Brazilian made movies accounted for only 10% of films shown in Brazilian movie theaters and although there has been a bit of a push by Brazilian filmmakers to change this, the number hasn’t grown much. And this isn’t because Brazilians aren’t making movies, or that there isn’t an audience for them. But rather the movies that do get made can’t even begin to compete with the marketing machine that backs American made films. So the films don't make any money and the national industry continues to struggle.
One estimate has a whooping 65% of the total revenue earned by the American film industry made in markets outside of the United States. Here in Brazil, the movie theater franchises that monopolize the market are multinationals. Companies like UCI, Cinemark and Hoyts General Cinema with their surround sound digital technology and stadium seating, show predominantly American films – which bring in the revenue to keep the cinemas operating. How can the practically non-existent Brazilian film industry, which struggles to raise the money to get even a few films a year into production, even begin to compete with the marketing power of Hollywood?
Naturally Brazilians have had little chance to develop a taste for their own movies. They earn very little money, are poorly marketed, weakly distributed, and do nothing to further the Brazilian cineasta’s dream of developing a national cinema industry. If there were money behind it, there is certainly no shortage of talent. Show up at any one of the country’s film festivals and you will see a number of very good, original feature length movies as well as documentary, shorts and animation, that apart from the festival circuit receive very little, if any, screen time.
A few years ago we spent ten days at the Mostra de Cinema de Tiradentes (an annual film festival in the city of Tiradentes in Minas Gerais). C had gotten accepted to a digital filmmaking workshop that ran as part of the festival.
I spent the afternoons watching movies and sightseeing around the historic city with Dharma and eventually was roped into participating in the short film the workshop produced.
It was a disastrous little 5 minute short – exactly what you’d expect from 25 students trying to collaborate on everything from script to costumes to direction in ten days. The only thing that turned out decently were the opening credits which were filmed by the guy who was assisting the director of the workshop. But it was a good and sometimes hilarious learning experience.
While we were there we did get to see a few feature length films that definitely proved that there is a lot more being explored in Brazilian cinema than violence. Here’s a short list (in no particular order) of some good recent Brazilian cinema. Check these out – if you can find them…
- Sonhos de Peixe (Fish Dreams)
- Crime Delicado (Delicate Crime)
- O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation)
- Anjos do Sol (Angels of the Sun)
- O Concepção (The Conceptualist)
- Baile Perfumado (Perfumed Ball)
- O Veneno da Madrugada (The Evil Hour)
- Abril Despedaçado (Behind the Sun)
- Lavoura Arcaica (To the Left of the Father)
- O Quatrilho
- Linha de Passa
- Casa de Areia (House of Sand)
One thing that ties almost all of these movies together is that their funding took years and years to raise -- 14 years in the case of Ruy Guerra’s Evil Hour. Anyway my list is not nearly complete – I’m sure there are Brazilian cinema lovers out there that know a lot more than me, so feel free to add suggestions!
Oh, and in a funny anecdote, while we were at the Tiradentes Film Festival, the movie O Concepção was being shown and one of the actors, Matheus Nachtergaele was in attendance. But much like his character in the film, he’s a bit of a drug fueled lunatic. One evening, C and I were sitting in the garden of one of the nicer restaurants in Tiradentes, conversing with the owner, an old friend of C’s. He brought us over to some benches in a quiet corner of the garden next to the hot tub he had just installed. (I know, a hot tub in a restaurant seems weird, but it was very tastefully done and had a bamboo screen around it). Anyway suddenly Matheus and his boyfriend came charging through. He was clearly high on something and he started tearing off all his clothes right there. We were trying to get up but were trapped in the corner between the building and the bamboo and couldn’t get past. The owner kept saying, wait, wait, hold on a second. But the crazy actor got stark naked and jumped in and then called to his boytoy to join him. We were tripping over chairs but managed to get away, barely containing our laughter.